The Opinionated Hikers on Patrol for You
For weeks, clouds have persisted in hanging about the Canadian Rockies like giant, sodden sponges. The rain—though we applaud its forest-fire prevention value—is getting tedious. Last weekend was the only break we’ve had during this long spate of grim weather. We dashed up to Three Sisters Pass, which overlooks Canmore, and… wow… we urge you to get up there soon. It’s a spectacular hike. And now is the perfect time to do it, as explained in the following, field-report supplement to the description in our book, Where Locals Hike in the Canadian Rockies:
6 km (3.7 mi)
595 m (1952 ft)
trailhead 1670 m (5478 ft), pass 2265 m (7429 ft)
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 hours
Gem Trek Canmore and Kananaskis Village
Any sunny weekend, spring through fall, it’s possible to arrive at the Goat Creek trailhead (launch pad for Ha Ling Peak, Trip 41) and find the parking lot so full there’s barely room to squeeze in a motorcycle. There might be 100 hikers on the peak, giving it an irksome, ant-farm atmosphere.
It was precisely such a day that we drove a few minutes farther down the road to the Three Sisters Pass trailhead and discovered… nobody. We hiked all afternoon in solitude.
Triple Sis Pass lacks Ha Ling’s popularity not because it’s scenically inferior or markedly more difficult, but simply because it’s not a peak. Ha Ling is to Canmore what the Grouse Grind is to Vancouver: de rigueur. The pass near the three siblings? Obscure.
That’s the first of this trip’s many shining attractions: You might have it all to yourself. You almost certainly will not feel oppressed by a crowd.
Shining attraction #2: The bootbeaten route climbs through a relatively narrow drainage that briefly constricts to a sharp-walled gorge then continues up a canyon. In early summer, a snowmelt stream careens down the canyon, then cascades through the gorge. You’ll hike beside this stream most of the way. The sight and sound of it are refreshing.
Shining attraction #3: The straight-shot ascent through the gorge and canyon is beautiful. It’s rough for only about ten minutes, when bypassing the gorge. Otherwise the grade is merely steep, and the rocky terrain is exciting. Above the gorge, you’re out of the trees most of the way, so you’ll see it all.
Shining attraction #4: The pass is an impressive vantage. The far (east) side is nearly vertical, so it grants an aerial perspective of Canmore, the Bow Valley, and the Fairholme Range beyond. The iconic Three Sisters peaks are nearby. Big Sister looms directly above the pass.
Just one caution: Don’t hike here in summer. The stream diminishes by then and can vanish in fall. It’s a waste to devote a full summer day to such a short hike. And all that rock creates a natural oven that, on a hot day, will bake your enchilada. So schedule Three Sisters Pass for late spring or early summer, when the stream is rollicking.
From downtown Canmore, follow signs leading uphill to the Canmore Nordic Centre. Reset your trip odometer to 0 at the Nordic Centre turnoff. Continue ascending on Smith-Dorrien / Spray Trail (Hwy 742). Pavement soon ends. After crossing Whiteman’s Gap, proceed generally southeast to 11.8 km (7.3 mi).
From the junction of Hwy 40 and Kananaskis Lakes Trail (50 km / 31 mi south of Trans-Canada Hwy 1, or 17 km / 10.5 mi north of Highwood Pass), turn southwest onto Kananaskis Lakes Trail. Reset your trip odometer to 0. At 2.2 km (1.4 mi) turn right (northwest) onto unpaved Smith-Dorrien / Spray Trail (Hwy 742). Continue to 51.4 km (31.9 mi).
For either approach, park in the small pullout on the west side of the road, at 1670 m (5478 ft). It’s 1.5 km (0.9 mi) north of the toilets and telephone near the north end of Spray Lakes Reservoir.
From the pullout, walk the road south about 90 m (98 yd). Turn left into the broad, dry, rocky drainage. Follow it northeast about 120 m (130 yd) to where a cairn (left / northwest) indicates a narrow path. It exits the drainage, rises onto the dryas-covered bank, and enters forest. Paralleling the drainage, the path leads generally northeast.
At 1773 m (5815 ft), about 15 minutes from the trailhead, begin ascending. Two minutes farther, drop 1.5 m (5 ft) to continue on the path. At 1828 m (5996 ft), about 30 minutes along, pass a slabby, tributary drainage (right / southeast).
The drainage soon narrows into a sharp, bedrock gorge. In early summer, a cascade fills the gorge, but by fall in might be dry. At the bottom of this gorge, rockhop across the stream, then bypass the gorge via the narrow, rough, bootbeaten route ascending steeply on the right (southeast) wall.
The bypass route climbs among tight trees. In about ten minutes, it drops left, onto bedrock at the top the gorge, at 1880 m (6166 ft). Proceed up-canyon by re-crossing to the left (north) side of the stream.
A cairned path—bootbeaten into talus, scree and dirt—makes the rest of the ascent straight forward. Ahead, the path briefly crosses to the right (south) side of the stream, then resumes on the left (north) side.
At 2135 m (7003 ft), about 1 1/4 hours from the trailhead, the path veers left (north) into forest and steepens. It exits the trees just shy of your destination.
Crest Three Sisters Pass at 3 km (1.9 mi), 2265 m (7429 ft).
Big Sister soars to 2936 m (9630 ft) from the right (southeast) edge of the pass. Middle Sister (Trip 1) is directly east. Little Sister is east-northeast. Canmore is north-northeast. Beyond the town, the Fairholme Range creates the Bow Valley’s far wall. Above you, north-northwest, is the Ehagay Nakoda Range—the massif comprising 2545-m (8348-ft) Mt. Lawrence Grassi, and Ha Ling Peak (Trip 41). Southwest is the Spray Valley, from which you ascended.
Returning from the pass, sure-footed hikers reach the top of the gorge in 30 minutes. Look left for the cairn indicated where the bypass route ascends into the trees on the southeast wall. It takes about ten minutes to descend the bypass route. Maintain a swift pace and you’ll intersect the road, near the trailhead, about one hour after departing the pass.